Skip to content Skip to navigation

Green awardee trampling on the green

At the prestigious India Today PSU Awards 2014, the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) was awarded the ‘Most Eco-Friendly Public Sector Unit (PSU) in the Miniratna category. It was stated that the award assumes a great deal of significance since the selection process included all the 229 PSUs nationwide in the fray and is, therefore, a befitting recognition of the innovative, sincere and dedicated efforts of the company towards preservation and conservation of the ecology and the environment.

A year later NRL was once again in news—this time for sending rare and Scheduled I species to death throes! The anti-conservation strategy and gross violation of environmental norms by the company drew flak from all quarters and taking cognizance of the serious violations, the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal has ordered impleading the NRL as a respondent in the Original Application No.38/2011 (Rohit Choudhury versus Union of India and Others) and Miscellaneous Application (MA) No. 787/2015 in connection with the issue of illegal boundary wall constructed by the NRL on the elephant corridor in the “No Development Zone” of the Proposed Deopahar Reserve Forest.

Deopahar is an important elephant habitat and the erection of the wall across the elephant corridor turned out to be a physical barrier for the pachyderms. Elephants, especially calves, as they try to cross over to and from the hilly terrain of the forest, slip off to their death inside the wall. More than 10 elephants died since 2011 in the ‘trap’ constructed by the green company!

Destruction of forest cover by NRL for Golf Course.
Photo source: Forest Department

Intervention in critical habitat

With a view to achieving the targeted 33% of the forest cover in the plains and 60% in the hills under the National Forest Policy (1998), the Government of Assam declared the Deopahar forest in the Golaghat district as a Proposed Reserve Forest on 18/08/99 with an area of 133.45 hectares and appointed the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Golaghat as Forest Settlement Officer (FSO). The notification was published in Assam Gazette dated 13/9/99. This gesture of the Government of Assam was hailed by one and all because the declaration came at a critical juncture as the district was going through a massive eco-disaster with almost 93% of its total reserve forest areas (excluding the Kaziranga National Park) were in the throes of destruction.  In such a situation there was every need to elevate this important patch of forest to the status of a Reserve Forest, but for reasons unknown, Deopahar continued with the status of a PRF to be encroached upon by booming industries.

Video source: Forest Department

Deopahar, which was handed over to    the forest department by the civil administration of Golaghat in 1968, is a small hill with an area of 134 hectares near Numaligarh, in Golaghat district. The notification show this stretch of forest land bounded by the Numaligarh tea estate and the Numaligarh garden road in the northern side while the NH 39 approach the hill from the south-western side. The Kalioni hills and part of Rajgarh lies to its east. Known for its archeological heritage since the ancient period of Assam history, Deopahar hosts unique biological diversity.

Dr Padmeshwar Gogoi, environmentalist and retired head of the Department of Botany, Devraj Roy College, documented a treasure of medicinal plants in Deopahar —Amul (Horsfieldia kingii),arjun (Terminalia arjuna), amlokhi (P.emblica), nephaphu (C. colebrookianum), mejankri (Litsea cubeba), sarpagandha (Rauvolfia serpentina  Benth.), bhajaguti, bohera, to different bamboo varieties, orchids and ferns. The forest’s upper and middle wooden canopy has wide ranging variety—Poma (Cedrela toona Roxb)), Gomari (Gmelina arborea), Som (P.bombycina), Bheleu (Tetramilos nodiflora), Uriam (Bischofia javanica), Nahor (Mesua ferrea), Hilikha (T.chebula Retz.), Seleng (Sapium baccatum Roxb.), Owtenga (Dillenia indica), Nagabheh (Schima wallichii), Paroli (Sterospermum chelonoides), Sopa (Michelia champaca), Morhal (Vatica lanceaefolia), Jatipoma (Cedrela febrifuga),Lali (Walsura robusta Roxb.), Holokh (Terminalia myriocarpa Heurck) etc.

Photo source: Forest Department

Apart from housing some rare cat species, reptiles, butterflies, local and migratory birds, the presence of wild bee hives on the Bheleu trees show signs of its pristine environment. After the massive destruction of the Nambor Reserve Forest, the oldest in the State--a few Hoolock gibbon families, otherwise marooned in the fragmented habitats in and around Nambor, found a safe refuge in Deopahar. Deopahar became an important transit for the animals migrating to and from Karbi Anglong to Kaziranga. This patch of forest now provides shelter to some 200-300 wild elephants.

Telgaram, where the Numaligarh Refinery is situated, is known for its elephant habitations. This area once served as a transit for elephants in between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong. With the establishment of NRL in Telgaram in the 90s, elephant depredation reached an alarming proportion. Incidents of man-elephant conflict only increased over the years resulting in casualties on both sides. To make matters worse, NRL brought into its possession a stretch of Deopahar PRF (interestingly the part of the PRF was sold to NRL by the Jorhat-based Numaligarh TE) and tried to secure it by constructing a boundary wall, 2 km in stretch, on this traditional elephant corridor. The illegal boundary wall became a huge physical barrier for the elephants blocking their normal movement. In a number of cases baby elephants got trapped inside these erections and were separated from the herd. The pachyderms were even seen hitting at the walls trying to get rid of these obstructions.

Further, the wall was constructed inside the “No Development Zone” violating the norms of the National Green Tribunal. As per NDZ notification, the expansion of industrial area, townships, infrastructure and such other activities which could lead to pollution and congestion shall not be allowed within the NDZ.  The NOC issued for the old NRL town ship by MoEF vide DO No.J-11014//91-1A.II, 18 -01-1994 prohibits use of hill slopes, forest area and states that no organized human settlement in the hill or the areas adjoining the hill at least in a radius of 10 km be allowed.  It appears that the NRL might have hidden these facts while applying for the extra land. The expansion of NRL town area has been another cause of concern that has become a threat to the elephant habitat in the Deopahar fringe. Moreover the use of high voltage lights, heavy construction equipments and vehicles day and night in the immediate vicinity of the PRF is causing disturbance to the pachyderm population.

The Divisional Forest Officer, Golaghat Mutthu Kumar Ravel said that he issued a letter no. B/13/ NRL Const/1295-98 dated 02/05/15 asking the NRL authority, Guwahati to take immediate action and remove the barrier constructed illegally that is blocking the normal movement of elephants in the area. Even after the issuing of the letters, NRL is yet to comply with the instruction of the Forest Department. On the other hand, continuing with its anti-conservation activities, NRL of late has cleared huge stretch of forest land in the “no development zone” of the Deopahar PRF for developing a golf course. In this connection, the Golaghat Forest Division appointed Santanu Barua, ACF, (vide order no 38 dated 20/05/15) to conduct a detailed inquiry into the illegal clearing of forest area and illegal cutting and mining of earth/hillocks in the forest fringe. Although there was an earlier approval for operating (felling) certain numbers of trees in a restricted area, however, after the receipt of the  Environment Clearance by the State Level  Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) the same was withdrawn later (before the final approval) due to violations (Letter No- B/32/PP/2685-92 dated 23/10/14). Recently, another letter was issued to the NRL management in this regard (Letter No-B/13/NRL-Const/1302-1305 dated 02/05/15).
The land acquired by the NRL is in clear violation of the established laws, rules and conditions. Further the areas in questions were serving as a critical wildlife corridors and part of a larger ecosystem and catchment.

DFO Kumar further stressed: “while there exists a number of alternatives for NRL, the loss of such critical forests, animal corridors, biodiversity and ecosystem cannot be recreated.  Rather the NRL should have developed a wasteland and build its township and definitely not by destroying forests, corridors and ecosystem at the cost of the state as well as present and future generations”.

Elephant enter at NRL Township


Industrial impact

There is no denying the fact that for an industrially impoverish state like Assam, there is every need to boost industrial growth. However, the rush to boost industrial growth rode roughshod over long-term environmental concerns as much of the investments are now on polluting industries like coke and cement, oil and gas extraction. In a biodiversity rich state like Assam, indiscriminate licensing of polluting industries already showed signs of grave environmental consequences.  Excessive burning of natural gas, rampant use of pesticides in the seemingly non hazardous tea industry has brought Assam’s geographical identification—the cultivation and production of the golden Muga-- to almost half of what the state produced 20 years back.

While the damaging impact of the polluting industries is felt more in the tea-oil-gas rich upper Assam districts where agriculture and environment had been adversely affected, the so called People’s Refinery that was born out of the Assam Accord after six long years of struggle, is bulldozing its way to spell doom to a critical habitat in the Kaziranga and Karbi-Anglong landscape. The natural eco-systems are complex and sensitive, where each species has a role and is symbiotically dependent on other species. With destruction of forest cover and cutting and mining of hillocks, NRL has already inflicted irreparable damage to Deopahar changing the topography of the area known for its rich and endemic biodiversity.

Photo: Samarjit Sharma

Author info

Mubina Akhtar's picture

Journalist, activist based in Guwahati. Email:


Jayanta Kumar Das's picture

This happens in Assam. Any body with high links could manage presigious environmental awards.Government of Assam must take immediate steps to dismantle the walls and declare Deopahar as the Reserce Forest.Its time people of Assam come forward for the protection of wild animals and birds.


Add new comment

Random Stories

Care for children and adolescents living with diabetes

24 Oct 2008 - 7:47pm | editor
"Diabetes is a deadly disease, and each year, almost 4 million people die from diabetes-related causes. Children, particularly in countries where there is limited access to diabetes care and...

Elephant Camp

Elephant Health Camp at Manas

30 Jan 2014 - 12:30am | Subhamoy Bhattacharjee
Elephant Health Camp jointly conducted by IFAW-WTI and Manas National Park Authority inside  Manas National Park (MNP) on Wednesday, 29 January 2014. All together thirty nine (39) departmental...

​‘A’ grade for ADP College

21 Jan 2016 - 2:03pm | Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti
National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC), Bangalore  has accorded ‘A’ grade to Anandaram Dhekial Phookan College, Nagaon, a premier institution of higher education in Assam. The CGPA...

GPC Media Cricket: Dainik Batori, Photo Journalist teams won today's matches

14 Mar 2008 - 7:31pm | Nava Thakuria
Dainik Batori eleven and Photo Journalist eleven have won the first day's match of 10th Guwahati Press Club Inter Media Cricket tournament. Played at Latashil play ground, Guwahati, the tournament...

Other Contents by Author

OFT, in the stilly night,Ere slumber's chain has bound me, Fond Memory brings the lightOf other days around me:The smiles, the tearsOf boyhood's years… (The Light of Other Days- Thomas Moore) As I sit down to reminisce my days in school when it completes a monumental journey of fifty years of existence—these lines come back to me bringing along a collage of pictures of different hues strewn across time. I had the privilege to have studied in a Montessori School that in course of time metamorphosed into a full fledged high school and earned the rare recognition of being the first provincialised English medium school in Assam. Kushal Konwar Balya Bhawan, as the school is presently...
Forest guards shot dead a charging adult male rhino in the Agaratoli Range of Kaziranga National Park on September 20. Earlier this year on February 14, a forest guard Gautam Barua, had to meet a terrible fate when he was on duty in the Bagori range of the National Park. He was killed by a charging rhino. In other words, the protector became the victim. Another guard, Podu Rajbongshi survived a similar attack in the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park in the last week of January. The year 2016 also saw similar incidents. Francis Horo, working with the forest department, died in an attack by wild buffalo on January 16 in the Bagori range of Kaziranga National Park while Sariful Islam, a forest...
The recent wave of flood in Assam left a trail of devastation affecting a total population of 33, 45,442 people and taking a toll of more than 150 lives. However, unofficial sources claim the death of more than 200 people in the recent deluge. Incessant rains since the first week of July coupled by dam-induced flood claimed 84 lives. The second bout of flood proved a disaster to the state; humans, animals including wildlife being washed away; millions of people displaced; thousands of hectares of standing crops destructed. Embankments were breached in 26 places in 15 districts. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority put the number of flood-hit people taking shelter in 923 relief...
The shrieking crescendo calls of the Koel and the flowering of ‘Kopou’ are harbingers of spring signaling the dawn of a new year in the Brahmaputra valley. The season sees the ubiquitous orchids with bright and heavy blossoms, varying in colors, bejewel the wilderness of the Northeast. ‘Kopou Phul’ is the most sought after orchid in Assam during New Year festivities in April. Assamese women adorn the pink flowers with deep pink spot as ornamentation on their head during celebration of ‘Rongali Bihu’. Found in North East as well as South India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Java and Philippines--‘Kopou Phul’ or ‘Seeta Pushpa’ in Sanskrit, Ryncostylists retusa is...
“Brahmaputra on one way sacred, one way trouble maker,” this was the observation made by the 14thDalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in Dibrugarh during his recent tour of Assam. During an interaction programme with students of the Dibrugarh University in the University auditorium on April 3, the Tibetan spiritual leader said that due to global warming there are more glacial melt in the Himalayan ranges. “In today’s world we face increasing natural disasters, including earthquakes, due to the effects of climate change. Yesterday in Guwahati I attended the Namami Brahmaputra Festival celebrating the sacredness of that great river, but we know it also has a tendency to flood.” “Because of global warming...
The Northeast forms a complex geomorphology with vast flood plains, valleys, hills and ridges of varying elevations, beels (wetlands) and swamp areas with presence of large number of avifaunal diversity. The mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries serve as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds. From the marshes of Kaziranga to the forests of Eaglenest in western Arunachal and further up to the alpine areas of Arunachal -- one come across more than 750 species of birds that includes most of the winter visitors. Assam, along with the other six northeastern states, shares a common migration route for many of the avifauna that flies over Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh...
The Northeast forms a complex geomorphology with vast flood plains, valleys, hills and ridges of varying elevations, beels (wetlands) and swamp areas with presence of large number of avifaunal diversity. The mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries serve as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds. From the marshes of Kaziranga to the forests of Eaglenest in western Arunachal and further up to the alpine areas of Arunachal -- one come across more than 750 species of birds that includes most of the winter visitors. Assam, along with the other six northeastern states, shares a common migration route for many of the avifauna that flies over Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh...
An ideal habitat for the breeding of rhinos, Kaziranga has seen a rise in the number of the species. The animal shrugged off its ‘endangered’ tag as soon as its population crossed the 2000 mark. This fuelled an overweening strategy--the much hyped Indian Rhino Vision -- that targeted 3,000 rhinos by the year 2020 in the rhino-bearing sanctuaries of Assam. However, with the number of this pre-historic pachyderm crossing the 2,500 mark, a host of challenges also came to the fore, poaching being only one of the concerns. Kaziranga has been plagued by other challenges like-- shrinking of the habitat, encroachment of the corridors around the Park, siltation of the water bodies and a complete...
The Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve suffered huge loss as flood waters of river Beki inundated 60 per cent of the Park since the last four days. Floodwaters entered the Park breaching the embankment at Panchmile under the Bansbari Range and submerged large areas of National Park on Wednesday night. The release of waters from the Kurichu dam by Bhutan has been attributed to the untimely disaster. “The waters have receded now but have left a trail of devastation. The flood breached the embankment at three sites making the Park all the more vulnerable, besides damaging most of the roads making movement almost impossible,” Dharanidhar Boro, deputy director of the Park said. “The bridge at...
That the Brahmaputra is drying up is no more a hype. The water line of the river is fast receding throughout its course in the entire Brahmaputra valley. According to information available from the Central Water Commission (CWC), the water level of the mighty river, known to be the lifeline of Assam, has reduced in an unprecedented manner this winter. “The water level of the Brahmaputra has reduced to 101.78 metres in the last week of December (2014), which is the lowest water level of the river so far. This decreasing trend is likely to continue till March,” an official of the commission said. As per information available from the commission, the water level of Brahmaputra in...